Max Tubman does cinematography using drones: "About one in four jobs ... I turn down because they want to fly over City Hall or fly down Broad Street."
image: http://media.philly.com/images/172*150/20150125_inq_drones25-c.JPG Max Tubman does cinematography using drones: "About one in four jobs ... I turn down because they want to fly over City Hall or fly down Broad Street." Gallery: Federal government is wrapping up work on drone rules
Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird. . . . It's a plane. . . . No, it's a drone.
The federal government is finalizing new rules for using unmanned small aircraft - commonly called drones - for uses such as monitoring oil fields and pipelines, and real-estate photography.
The regulations are eagerly awaited by businesses, including the news media, the motion-picture industry, and farmers who say remote-controlled mini-aircraft equipped with cameras could benefit people and create jobs.
Hobbyists are now permitted to fly model aircraft below 400 feet, within sight of the operator and at least five miles from airports and crowds. But flying drones for business or profit is illegal, except for 13 companies that have been granted exemptions.
Violators can be fined $10,000, but the Federal Aviation Administration, which controls the national airspace, has limited enforcement capability.
"I totally support the regulations," said Max Tubman, of South Philadelphia, who does low-altitude cinematography using drones. "About one in four jobs that people call me about I turn down because they want to fly over City Hall or fly down Broad Street."
"I turn down the work for safety issues," said Tubman, 29, who majored in film in college and is finishing training to get a private pilot's license.
As the technology has advanced, unmanned aerial vehicles can fly higher and are cheaper. They are available for anywhere from less than $100 to more than $4,000.
Thousands of casual fliers received some type of drone under the Christmas tree.
On the plus side, drones can get cameras and scientific equipment where they could not otherwise go. They might be used to predict the movement of pathogens, spray selectively and find diseased plants, track fires before they get out of control, and deliver relief to disaster zones.
But the technology raises safety and other questions, if drones get in the path of passenger airlines, fall to the ground and injure people, or invade personal privacy - hovering outside residential windows or backyards. A drone crashed in Mexico near the California border last week, toting six pounds of methamphetamine.
The New York Police Department has expressed concern that a terror attack could be carried out by a drone carrying chemical weapons and explosives.
The Pew Research Center found 63 percent of adults surveyed thought it would be "a change for the worse" if personal and commercial drones were permitted to fly through most U.S. airspace.
"Until recently, it took a pretty high skill level and a lot of money to fly significant aircraft as a hobbyist," said Charles Reinholtz, professor and chair of mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"The problem is really that the technology is becoming so cheap and accessible that lots and lots of people are getting them," he said. "They don't know the rules. They don't obey the rules. They just go out and fly as high as they can.
"Right now, the situation is bad, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better because the FAA has been slow to enact regulations. . . . You have just a whole bunch of cowboys out there flying these things, and it is dangerous."
The FAA logged 193 cases of drones flying too close to aircraft, buildings, or crowds over 10 months in 2014.
Six sightings were near airports in Trenton and Allentown. On Sept. 17, Philadelphia police spotted an "unauthorized" drone flying over City Hall.
"It's not a question of if there will be a collision; it's a question of when. I don't care who regulates the use of it," said pilot Dan Goldfedder, a captain who has flown 16 years for Republic Airways, which operates flights for US Airways and American Airlines.
"These drone operators, there's no skin in the game for them. I have skin in the game."
Goldfedder, who lives in South Philadelphia, said that he had not seen a drone while flying but that it was only a matter of time.
"I don't think the size of the drone, and light weight of the drone, matters," Goldfedder said. "It's the speed of the airplane. What happens if a drone is ingested in an engine? Those things are powered by lithium battery."
The FAA recently granted exemptions to businesses to use drones to scout crops for pests, do real-estate photography, and shoot movie scenes.
CNN this month announced a research agreement with the FAA to test camera-equipped drones for newsgathering.
Ten media organizations, including the New York Times and the Associated Press, have a research partnership with Virginia Tech University to test small, unmanned aircraft to gather news.
Amazon wants to use them to deliver packages to customers.
As the devices have become smaller, more powerful, and easier to use, Congress instructed the FAA in 2012 to develop a plan for "safe integration" of unmanned aircraft weighing up to 55 pounds.
"We are trying to write regulations that will maintain today's extremely high level of safety in the nation's airspace, while at the same time not putting an undue regulatory burden on this emerging industry," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. "That's quite a challenge for us to take on."
"We are working with our colleagues in the administration to finish the small unmanned aircraft system rule," Dorr said. "We don't have a date when we are going to release it, but our goal is to get it right."
The new rules may require operators of larger drones to have a pilot's license. Some drones might be required to have transponders, or collision-avoidance systems, to alert other aircraft and air traffic control about location.
"There's always the potential for these things to be dangerous," Embry-Riddle's Reinholtz said. "But the regulations, if properly implemented, will make things safer than they are today."
The Philadelphia Inquirer http://mailview.bulletinmedia.com/mailview.aspx?m=2015012601aerostates&r=6833553-b048&l=001-099&t=c Loyd reported that the Federal government is finalizing new rules for using UAVs "for uses such as monitoring oil fields and pipelines, and real-estate photography." The regulations have been eagerly awaited by "businesses, including the news media, the motion-picture industry, and farmers." FAA spokesman Les Dorr said, "We are trying to write regulations that will maintain today's extremely high level of safety in the nation's airspace, while at the same time not putting an undue regulatory burden on this emerging industry."